Tag Archives: criminal justice

Notes on Isaac West’s Transforming Citizenships, NYUP, 2014.

West offers several case studies of how transgender articulations of law can change our perspectives. He also offers “performative repertoire” as a concept to get beyond acontextual legal rhetorics (see more below). Following are selected quotations and contextualizing notes.

“Academic critique that is limited to official state texts, including legislative debates, statutes, and court opinions, embraces an impoverished sense of the rhetoricity of citizenship and its corresponding agencies” (p. 17)

“an exclusive focus on litigation does not provide an accurate picture of legal subjectivities” (p. 20)

“contextualized critiques of articulations of citizenship are necessary correctives for conceptualizing the law not as an external force acting on culture, but rather as an actually existing set of cultural effectivities” (p. 21)

“agency must be understood as a ‘performative repertoire,’ or as embodied practices enabled by and negotiated through the logics of subjective recognition” (p. 39)

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BP accused of participating in ‘culture of corporate recklessness’

Breaking news: BP will pay a record criminal fine in order to avoid criminal charges of gross negligence in relation to the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.

This is a fascinating turn of events–particularly so because of the transnational implications of a UK-based company paying fines to the US government–and something I really wish I could have discussed in my forthcoming article “Transcultural Risk Communication on Dauphin Island: An Analysis of Ironically Located Responses to the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.” (Alas, it’s already gone to press.)

Also of particular interest to me is the fact that this story appears in CNN.com’s “Money” section (and is also linked in its “Business” section) although I think it would have fit just as nicely in “Health” or “World.” (Of course, ideally, the story would have been placed under the non-existent “Environment” section.)


Munchausen Syndrome/Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and Women in Criminal Justice

The following is a link to a group project I helped with as part of the class Women and Criminal Justice:


Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Somvadee and Morash

Somvadee, C., & Morash, M. (2008). Dynamics of sexual harassment for policewomen working alongside men. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 31(3), 485-498

1.      Main Thesis: Somvadee and Marsh identified that many policewomen report being sexually harassed even if they do not identify it as such; they also found that policewomen were concerned about male colleagues’ beliefs about whether women could “do the job.”

2.      Body of Evidence: Somvadee and Morash asked 121 U.S. policewomen working in county, city, state, and campus offices to fill out the Sexual Experience Questionnaire. A total of 117 women responded, with most of these women being White (71.8%) and a significant percentage (22.2%) being African American. Most women had college degrees, and the mean age of respondents was 35.6 years. Many respondents did patrol and detective work while some worked in jails and as administrators. Most planned a career in police work. The authors found that most women (90.6%) reported at least one SEQ behavior, although only 58.2 percent believed they had been sexually harassed. The policewomen were most bothered by situations in which men thought women less capable of doing the job; for example, women were upset when given less important or low-risk tasks, and one women reported a male colleague suggesting she had been hired because she was a female and an ethnic minority (p. 491). Women also reported significant inappropriate sexual jokes and remarks, but they often described these activities as practices that defined an “in group.” Many respondents believed such activities allowed them to be part of the in group. In connection to this, women mostly reported that their male colleagues would respond positively if confronted about their inappropriate behavior. The authors make several observations about their data, including discussing other studies that support the idea that more developed procedures for handling sexual harassment are empowering for policewomen (p. 493). The authors note that their findings are not generalizable, but that they are consistent with the results of other similar studies. They end by suggesting how police organizations can improve by considering the implications of unrecognized sexual harassment.

3.      Conclusions: Somvadee and Morash conclude that police organizations and researchers should be more aware of how policewomen may be socialized into male-constructed workplaces, as suggested by women’s beliefs that tolerating or participating in sexual joking made them part of the “in group.” The authors also suggest that future research consider whether those atmospheres in which sexual harassment is most prevalent are not reported on because women simply do not work in such places. Finally, Somvadee and Morash argue for increased attention to hearing women’s complaints about sexual harassment when they occur.

4.      My Conclusions: This article reports on a relatively straightforward survey and draws some important conclusions from the data collected. As a women who has participated in behavior designed to make me part of an “in group,” I was fascinated to read about how this social behavior is still considered sexual harassment. I was also concerned about the lack of attention given to the women who refused to participate in the study based on concerns over anonymity. This situation certainly seems to connect to the authors’ findings that reporting of sexual harassment is problematic because it can exacerbate the problem. I would have liked to see more discussion of this implication in connection with the women who opted out.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Bagley and Merlo

Bagley, K., & Merlo, A. V. (2006). Regulating and controlling women’s bodies. In A. V. Merlo & J. M. Pollock (Eds.), Women, law, and social control (2 ed., pp. 64-87). Boston: Pearson Allyn Bacon.

1.      Main Thesis: Bagley and Merlo argue that official control over women’s bodies—particularly during pregnancy—has increased significantly in the last decade. However, they say, this increased control has been for punitive purposes; it has not resulted in better care or programming for women, pregnant or otherwise.

2.      Body of Evidence: After outlining their argument that women’s bodies are disproportionately singled out for public/official control, the authors discuss ways in which this occurs. They highlight several cases in which pregnant women were prosecuted based on their status as pregnant. For example, Regina McKnight is serving a 12-year sentence for the death of her fetus, despite the fact that there is no evidence her cocaine use killed it and despite the fact that a third-trimester abortion would have resulted in a maximum sentence of two years (p. 67-68). Clearly, the intention of such a sentence is to increase regulation and control of women, not to protect fetuses. The authors provide several other examples and introduce the idea of the slippery slope, asking, “to what standard of care should pregnant women be held? Should pregnant women stop drinking coffee, stop riding motorcycles, play doubles rather than singles tennis …?” (p. 69). The authors state that reproductive laws—including coercive contraception laws—have disproportionately targeted crack cocaine users (over other types of drug users), poor women, and women of color. Next, the authors give extended detail about how women are affected by HIV/AIDS. They discuss the gap in quality of care given to white women versus black women, who are disproportionately affected by AIDS due to a number of social causes, and the ethical issues surrounding mandatory testing of pregnant women and/or their newborns. Finally, the authors point out that rehabilitation and support services for AIDS-affected and substance-addicted pregnant women are more likely to produce social reform than continued punitive legislation.

3.      Conclusions: The authors argue that it is unfair to punish women for offenses resulting from a flawed system that women are unequipped to deal with. Rather than focus on increased control of pregnancy, they advocate the establishment of sex-abuse prevention programs (because women who have been abused are more likely to be HIV-positive and/or drug users), awareness and rehabilitation programs, and programs to help women become good mothers. The authors push for refocusing on the mother instead of focusing only on the fetus.

4.      My Conclusions: I enjoyed this chapter’s focus on legal precedent as reflective of social beliefs about control of pregnancy. This topic relates to my research, in which I’ve discovered that some states have tried to pass coercive legislation requiring women to view an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; I suspect that this law, like those Bagley and Merlo discuss, will disproportionately affect particular populations. My one trifle with this chapter is that I think it does not discuss enough the agency that women do have. That is, while I believe that our flawed cultural/social/legal system produces much of the “crime” described herein, I also think that we must recognize women’s ability to make and take responsibility for their choices.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis

Snyder, C. S., Gabbard, W. J., May, J. D., & Zulcis, N. (2006). On the battleground of women’s bodies: Mass rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Journal of Women and Social Work, 21(2), 184-195.

1.      Main Thesis: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis argue that we should consider the social and cultural patterns that allow war rape to occur. Using the Bosnian conflict as an example, the authors suggest that women experience war rape as a complex situation involving not only sex, but also ethnicity, age, race, class, religion, nationality, and more. They suggest that attention to this complexity can shape future policy to prevent and/or prosecute war rape.

2.      Body of Evidence: This article begins by providing a detailed history of how women’s fates and fortunes have been intertwined with and dependent upon national narratives and social initiatives in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia. The authors document the history of wartime rape, going all the way back to the Roman rape of the Sabines (p. 185). The authors dispute arguments suggesting that war rape is biologically based. Next, the authors discuss feminist responses to wartime rape—which suggest that rape is an expression of male hatred toward women—as well as documenting gender roles and relations and the uprising of feminism in Yugoslavia prior to the Bosnian conflict. The collision of feminism and nationalism resulted in a splintering of the feminist movement; nationalism led to “discourse that conflated images of mothers with the nation itself” (p. 188). This, in turn, allowed public policy to turn toward reproductive control, which paved the way for cultural understandings of war rape as a way for males to demoralize the enemy while propagating their own nationality/bloodline and preventing the enemy from reproducing—a form of ethnic cleansing. The authors state that most rapes were perpetrated by Serbian men against Muslim women and that between 25,000 and 50,000 women were raped; however, many would not admit to being raped because of the social consequences, which included shaming their men (p. 189). Finally, the authors argue that the “Bosnian conflict signaled the end of the invisibility of women who are raped in war” (p.191). For the first time, war rape was classified by the United Nations as a crime against humanity on par with torture and murder.

3.      Conclusions: Snyder, Gabbard, May, and Zulcis conclude by pointing out that the fracturing of the women’s movement was one of the first signs of the wars of succession in Yugoslavia. As such, women and feminists are uniquely placed to prevent such atrocities. The authors suggest that war rape victimizes entire cultures as well as individual women. They argue that we are obligated to consider the complex nature of war rape as a crime that implicates such characteristics as ethnicity, nationality, and religion in addition to gender and sex.

4.      My Conclusions: This article was shocking. It also was detailed and well researched. I appreciated the attention to social and cultural logics supporting war rape. In addition, I heartily agree with the third-wave nature of the authors’ argument about considering the intersectionalities of identity involved in war rape. However, I disagree with the authors’ contention that women and feminists are uniquely obligated to fight this type of violence. Certainly women and feminists should be part of the fight, but we already have many burdens to bear, and I submit that men—who still make up the vast majority of all militaries worldwide—actually have greater potential to make changes in time to prevent imminent cases of war rape. I wish the authors had called men to action as well.

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Browne

Browne, A. (2004). Fear and the perception of alternatives: Asking “why battered women don’t leave” is the wrong question. In B. R. Price & N. J. Sokoloff (Eds.), The Criminal Justice System and Women: Offenders, Prisoners, Victims & Workers (3 ed., pp. 343-359). Boston: McGraw Hill.

1.      Main Thesis: Browne shows that there are differences not between battered women who kill their abusers and battered women who do not, but that there are differences between the abusers themselves. Among other variables, abusers who are killed by their victims are more likely to engage in child abuse and sexual assault of their partners; abusers who were killed were, in many ways, more violent and merciless than those who were not killed by their victims.

2.      Body of Evidence: Browne engages in a comparative study of battered women in two groups: those who killed their abusers (the homicide group) and those who did not (the comparison group). She interviewed these women, giving many answers to the question of why battered women don’t leave their abusers even as she problematizes the asking of that question in the first place. The interviews provide chilling case studies of the violence battered women rightly fear if they were to make an attempt to leave their abuser; Browne says that “at least 50 percent of women who leave their abusers are followed and seriously harassed or further attacked” (p. 344). The interviews contextualize the complexity of a battering situation for a woman who fears danger to those she loves, be they adult protectors, children, or pets. The interviews also show how difficult it is practically to leave an abuser when a woman must be present/predictable for court proceedings, child custody arrangements, employment, and more. Finally, Browne uncovers a correlation between the reactions of abused women and the reactions of those who have been victims of other types of trauma, such as natural disaster victims. In all, Browne finds seven variables that increase the likelihood of an abuser being killed: 1) frequency of abuse 2) severity of victim’s injuries 3) frequency of sexual assault 4) abuser’s drug use 5) abuser’s alcohol use 6) abuser’s threats to kill and 7) victims’ suicide threats.

3.      Conclusions: Browne argues that asking why battered women don’t leave is the wrong question because battered women usually act in reaction to their abusers. She concludes by using social judgment theory to show that women who kill their abusers have been pushed outside their latitude of acceptance by their abusers’ actions.

4.      My Conclusions: This article deeply changed the way I think about battering situations. I have asked the question, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” I did not know that most abusers will follow and harass a woman who leaves. I did not know that police so often dismiss the allegations of battered women. I did not think about the implications of a woman’s actions for those she loves, including her children and anyone who shelters her. I did not consider the practical consequences of leaving for a woman who has likely been systematically isolated by her abuser; she often has no means of economic support and may not have the resources to obtain gainful employment. This article overwhelmingly supported Browne’s main point that abusers’ actions drive the actions of victims. Since reading this article, I’ve had numerous conversations  about why battered women don’t leave. I hope that, with this new understanding, I can change others’ thinking as well.